I was officially a ward of the court.
When I was told this, I didn’t even know what that meant. So, I googled it.
“A ward of the court is someone under the protection of the courts.”
Essentially, the court had the right to determine who would take care of me. Both of my parents were gone and all three of my brothers lived in Louisiana.
It was the middle of my senior year of high school and I was suddenly “homeless” and parent-less.
I wasn’t “homeless” for long. It wasn’t long before Deb and Jeff (Ben’s parents) sat me down.
Deb grabbed my hand and told me that they didn’t want me to go through any more change if I didn’t have to.
“We want to keep you,” they said.
But, it wasn’t set in stone yet. They still had to convince the judge that it was in my best interest for the parents of my high school boyfriend to gain guardianship over me.
This would take some time to figure out (and it would get figured out).
The week after my mom passed away, we had a visitation in Michigan with the limited family that could make it, and the many friends we had locally. The support of our community was truly amazing.
Senior Class Trip
With everything going on, it was hard to think about the Senior Class Trip that was happening just two days after my mom’s visitation. My mom had moved heaven and earth to make sure I would be able to go on this trip just as my brothers had in the past. I knew she would want me to go.
If I went though, it meant that I would miss her funeral in Louisiana. It was one of the most conflicted feelings I had ever had, and one of the toughest choices I have ever made.
My family and friends convinced me that I should go on the trip. And they were right.
It wasn’t the easiest trip. I had some really emotional moments. But, in the end, it truly was an experience of a lifetime. Ben was my rock and my shoulder whenever I needed him.
My best friend, Tina was there to listen when I needed her & and my teacher and trip leader, Mrs. Gellise, was an amazing support as well.
During this trip I knew that even though my life would forever be different, that I should never lose hope in the future and what joy it can bring.
Ben and I visiting the Statue of Liberty during our Senior Class Trip
Mrs. Gellise – the teacher who was one of my biggest supporters during my entire senior year and beyond
My best friend Tina and I during the senior trip. She was my roommate and my confidante.
I got to experience so many things on that class trip, and I will forever be grateful for everyone who made it happen and convinced me to go. It wasn’t long before I was back home though… my new home.
Life was different. But life must go on… That’s what I told myself at least. I didn’t allow myself to mourn very much. I didn’t take a lot of time to grieve. (This would come back to get me in the coming years… but that’s for another post)
I felt like if I let myself feel the emotions, that it would somehow be true. (Even though it was true)
I had nightmares for years, not so much anymore, where in my dreams one or both of my parents have died, but then we suddenly find them alive. As if it were a hoax the entire time.
Maybe I watched too many soap operas as a child, but these dreams felt so real that waking up to reality was sometimes as hard as losing them in the first place.
Sometimes I would desperately want to fall back asleep just to “feel” them again. But, it never worked.
So, I continued on with life. I got good grades, and continued making plans for college, applied for scholarships, and tried to be a “normal” teenager.
One day I came home to flowers on the table, a cake, and a beautiful figurine. Ben and his parents had a surprise for me. They were officially granted guardianship, and I was officially “theirs” to keep.
The day that Deb and Jeff were granted guardianship over me
I don’t know what I did to deserve to be a part of this family, but I am so grateful and fortunate that I am.
I don’t know many people, in fact, I am not sure I know anyone, who would have been so willing to take in their son’s girlfriend, and provide her with a stable home when her world had just collapsed.
They did not hesitate. They never made me feel unwelcome. They made me feel like their daughter. And for that, I can never repay them.
My parents may not be able to say it, but I know they are eternally grateful for Deb and Jeff and all they have done for me.
I had no idea how I was going to pay for college. When my parents were alive, I knew they couldn’t afford to pay for my college, but I knew they would help me go no matter what it took.
In the end, I applied for a lot of scholarships and submitted a lot of essays.
On the night of our annual awards ceremony, I was rewarded with several scholarships adding up to $18,000!
One could say I earned those, and I deserved them. Now, I was a good student, top 15 of my class (not that my class was very large, maybe 140 students), but I knew that I wouldn’t have gotten all of those scholarships if I hadn’t lost my parents.
I had a “story,” and that made me stand out. I felt guilty about that for a long time.
Ben and I on graduation night with his parents, Deb & Jeff
My Aunt Patty & I on graduation night
Nonetheless, coupled with the scholarships I was rewarded and the state aid due to my situation, I was lucky to walk away with a four year degree with a quarter of the debt I was anticipating. (Now if only I hadn’t decided to go BACK to college a few years later… but that’s for another post too)
I still say to this day that I was so fortunate for unfortunate reasons. I will never take those scholarships or that state aid for granted.
So, you’ve read my story of my senior year in high school. You deserve a standing ovation for hanging in there this long!
You’ve learned that I lost both of my parents, 10 weeks apart, and you’ve seen a brief glimpse into the life I had after losing them.
I didn’t want to tell this story for pity. I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I want to point out all of the things you might have missed while reading this story.
These are the things I like to focus on when I think of my story. These are the reasons I am so fortunate, despite the unfortunate events.
1. I had two loving parents who would do anything for me… Including live on opposite ends of the country for a year, just so I could get what I wanted.
2. I had a mom that was my best friend, who I could tell anything to. And I know that she’s still with me every day, guiding me.
3. I had an amazing boyfriend, who became my husband. He didn’t run when no one would have blamed him.
4. I have the most incredible in-laws, who took me in without pause and made me feel like their very own.
5. I had friends and teachers who were there for me and supported me throughout my struggles.
6. I was able to go to college, and come out with far less debt than I ever anticipated.
This is just one year of my life. One part of my story.
It has been 10 years since I lost my parents, and some days it seems like yesterday.
If you want to learn what’s happened in the past 10 years, the ups and downs, and everything in between, keep following me on this journey!
You can head over to Part 4 of this series right here.
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